When you think of calcium, usually teeth and bones are most often associated. But according to The Vegan Society, an organization founded in 1944 that is dedicated to providing information on the benefits of a vegan diet, calcium is also involved in your nervous system, blood clotting and controlling your muscles.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, making up one to two percent of a healthy adult’s body weight. 99 percent of the calcium in our body is stored in teeth and bones, and the body maintains a consistent concentration of calcium. However, if you are not consuming sufficient calcium through diet, your body will extract the calcium it needs from bone tissue, thereby accelerating bone loss.

Calcium requirements are dependent upon age. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults age 19-50 is 1000 mg. That number increases to 1200 mg for women beginning at age 51 and for men beginning at age 71.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need dairy milk to obtain calcium. When in actuality, people who consume dairy products retain less calcium than those who get their calcium from veggies. A Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that consuming two or more glasses of milk a day put people at a higher risk for broken hips and arms than those who drank one or fewer glasses of milk a day. 

Many decide to opt out of cow’s milk and other dairy products because of the immense cruelty involved in the dairy industry, as well as the environmental impact. Cow’s milk is for well, baby cows. Calves are stolen from their serially pregnant mothers, all for humans to drink their milk. 

 But simply put, there is no need for humans to consume cow’s milk or any other dairy product, despite what The National Osteoporosis Society may tell you. Calcium recently made the news when a National Osteoporosis Society’s survey that showed a fifth of young people are avoiding or cutting out dairy has been misrepresented in the media. Many of the articles alleged that cow’s milk is the only source of calcium, but The Vegan Society was quick to point out that there are many easily available vegan alternatives.

“Some media reports exaggerate the findings, making it sound like dairy is the only source of calcium and failing to note the alternative sources that can be easily obtained on a vegan diet,” noted Heather Russell, a Dietitian at The Vegan Society.

VEGANS this does not mean you are clear of getting osteoporosis or have great bone health just by avoiding dairy, you must be consistent with eating or supplementing with calcium to get your recommended daily allowance, 500 mg (Dr. T. Colin Campbell) to 1000mg, (depending on your doctor’s recommendation and age) and doing weight bearing exercise if you are not consistently whole-foods plant-based. Bone health is complex, involving phosphorus, Vitamin D and exercise. We should be consuming at least 500 mg of calcium daily from a whole-foods plant-based diet.

The best sources are kale, mustard and turnip greens, bok choy and broccoli, fortified plant milks and tofu. High-oxalate greens like spinach have lower absorption and not recommended as much for their oxalate content. You don’t need to worry that much if you eat a whole-foods plant based diet. See Dr. Michelle McMacken’s recommendations below.

Some great facts and studies from Dr. Michelle McMacken, Board-Certified Internal Medicine Physician and known as the veg_md.

“1- Do ensure your getting enough CALCIUM. The RDA for adults is 1000 mg/day for women,, 50 yrs and men 70 yrs. Low oxalate greens are an outstanding source, so make it a daily habit to eat broccoli, bok choy, kale, napa cabbage, mustard or turnip greens. We absorb 40-60% of the calcium in these greens, vs about 30% from cow milk. Fortified nondairy milks and calcium set tofu are other good sources, with absorption equivalent to that from cow milk. Also enjoy collard greens, sesame tahini, beans almonds and almond butters! (Note: Swiss chard and spinach have calcium but it’s bound to oxalate and thus not well absorbed.)

2- MAXIMIZE your FRUITS, VEGGIES & BEANS. You’ll get plenty of folate, Vitamin C, K and plant protein ,all conducive to healthy bones.

3- Pay attention to VITAMIN D, as it’s essential to calcium absorption. Most people need a Vitamin D supplement, especially those living in cooler climates or adequate exposure to sunlight.

4- Avoid excessive, SALT, ALCOHOL & CAFFEINE. They increase calcium losses or impair absorption.

5. Get regular EXERCISE – weight bearing and strength training.

Why avoid dairy in the first place, from the nutrition perspective? Well, dairy fat is a major contributor to heart disease, and stroke risk. All dairy, including low fat, increases IGF-1 9 (a hormone tied to cancer risk) and naturally contains estrogen and bloating in the up to 70% of people worldwide who lose the ability to digest lactose, causing gas and bloating in the up to 70% of people worldwide who lose the ability to digest lactose after childhood. And it’s linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer, type 1 diabetes, colitis and acne – not to mention colic, constipation, and iron deficiency in children. More info at VeganHealth.org”

References: Michaëlsson, BMJ 2014
Bischoff-Ferrari, J Bone Miner Res 2011
Chenn, Am J Clin Nutr 2016
Harrison, Cancer Causes Control 2017
AICR Continuous Update Project , Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Prostate Cancer; revised 2018
Key, Proc Nutr Soc 2011
Caldwell, Environ Health Perspect 2010
Goldsmith, J Gastroenterol 0214
Aghasi, Clin Nutr 2018

By eating wholesome calcium-packed vegan foods, you can build and maintain strong bones. So what are some of the dairy-free sources of calcium?

Here are 15 sources of dairy-free foods that are packed full of calcium!

1. Collard greens

Calcium content: 268 milligrams per 1 cup cooked

2. Broccoli

Calcium content: 86 milligrams in 2 cups raw

3. Kale

Calcium content: 101 milligrams in 1 cup raw, chopped

4. Edamame

Calcium content: 98 milligrams in 1 cup cooked

5. Bok Choy

Calcium content: 74 milligrams per 1 cup shredded

6. Figs

Calcium content: 121 milligrams per 1/2 cup dried

7. Oranges

Calcium content: 74 milligrams in one large orange and 27 milligrams in a cup of orange juice

8. White Beans

Calcium content: 63 milligrams in 1/2 cup cooked

9. Okra

Calcium content: 82 milligrams in 1 cup

10. Tofu

Calcium content: 434 milligrams per half cup

11. Almonds

Calcium content: 75 milligrams per ounce (about 23 whole almonds)

12. Sesame Seeds

Calcium content: a tablespoon of sesame seeds has 88 mg of calcium

13. Black Eyed Peas 

Calcium content:  370 mg of calcium per cup

14. Turnip Greens 

Calcium content: 1.5 cups of cooked turnip greens is just short of 300 mg of calcium

15. Blackstrap Molasses 

Calcium content: two tablespoons contains 344 mg of calcium

My mother was a fine example of someone who consumed meat and dairy daily and had advanced osteoporosis. Know someone who still isn’t convinced that they can get calcium from dairy-free alternatives? Share this post with them!

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